M is for Meditation
Have you ever wondered what all the fuss is about with meditation? Or have you told yourself you’re too busy to give it a try? Well I’ll let you on in on a secret. I’m one of the worst meditators I know. I actually can’t stand sitting still. That’s why my boyfriend calls me, “the Squirrel”. So how did a non-stopper like me master meditation? The answer: by understanding the why, what and how of one of the most ancient practices there is.
Benefits to meditation —
- Relaxes the nervous system
- Slows down the heart rate
- Improves digestion and assimilation
- Increases mental agility
- Balances emotions
- Increases immunity
- Boosts your mood
- Lowers blood pressure
- Increases creativity
- Decreases anxiety
In fact there are so many benefits that the case for meditation is really a no brainer. I won’t bore you with a long history of the origins of meditation, but let’s just say, the act of contemplation has been around for a very long time. Picture yogis in India, cross-legged and cross-eyed. Buddha under the Bodhi tree and Zen monks facing a wall.
Anytime you close your eyes and take a moment, be it in a place of worship, watching a sunset, or hugging your beloved, you are taking a moment for yourself. It’s in the quiet moments that we are able to let go and allow inspiration to flood in. But inspiration isn’t quiet. In fact it’s the opposite. I often keep a piece of paper and pen next to my meditation cushion just so I can write down all the ideas that come flooding in.
How to meditate —
Meditation is all about deepening your focus.
Think about how it feels to be completely engaged in a task, like threading the eye of a needle. If you were in fight or flight mode you certainly couldn’t do that. You need to be relaxed. Learning to relax the nervous system is the first step in meditation. To make that happen, you need to give the mind a focus. Something to pull it out of its need to identify with the thoughts that create the stress in the first place.
The most obvious tool is the breath because that’s the one thing you can control.
Most of the time we don’t worry about the breath because it runs on its own steam, but learning to breathe deeply and fully and varying the length and force of the breath affects the speed and force of the thoughts.
Take a moment right now and notice, have you stopped breathing? Is it shallow, heavy? Are you taking some deep sighs?
Without even realizing it you’ve already started meditating.
It’s called dharana, a sanskrit word for concentration. In any mindfulness practice the first step is learning to focus. Once you’ve mastered that, this next step is easy.
What fascinates me, is that although we are naturally meditating all the time by just being ourselves, we think it’s something we have to do. Meditation is not a verb. It’s actually an adjective describing creation. Everything in nature is meditation. Just watch a tree, gaze at the sky or the ocean. The ocean doesn’t quarrel with the wave. The sky doesn’t pick a fight with a bird. Everything just is. You just are. First comes you, then comes everything you think and do. Meditation is the reminder. Reminding you of your true nature, boundless, endless, unlimited and whole. Every time you feel peaceful, that’s you, the meditation itself.
Once you mastered the ability to keep your mind pinned on the breath it flows into what’s called dhyana, effortless concentration. Dhyana is actually a lot like binge watching your favourite TV series. You’re glued to the screen, almost drooling, completely hooked on what’s coming next. There could be a fire in the next room and you wouldn’t notice.
You can’t force dhyana, it just happens. A switch just seems to flip and suddenly it’s easy to stay focused, you lose track of time and feel completely relaxed. And just to clarify, effortless concentration is not the goal. It’s a stage that may or may not happen. All that’s needed for you to succeed in meditation is to have the intention to let go of thoughts while doing something repetitive. Studies have shown that things like knitting, running, colouring in, even praying invoke a meditative state.
In the ancient texts on yoga it’s advised that you choose one thing to concentrate on and stick to it. Chopping and changing your focus in day-to-day activities is what can often create the stress in the first place. So sitting down, choosing something to focus on and repeating that over and over is the constant you can depend on. It doesn’t matter what you choose. Just choose it and start. To get into meditating mood it’s good to set an intention. An intention setting practice can also be a potent way to kick off the new year.
My favourite teacher and Mentor Alan Finger always recommends the Sankalpa Meditation. He says that a sankalpa, setting an intention for yourself is different to a New Years resolution. A resolution is something we make with our conscious mind where as a sankalpa is a seed that can’t help but grow in the ground of our unconscious.
The Sankalpa Meditation —
- Take a few moments to close your eyes and observe your breath.
- Visualize writing your intention (let the intention arise without prejudgment) in your own handwriting on the blue screen of your mind.
- Chant your intention inwardly and feel it resonating at the point between the eyebrows. Then chant it in the throat, at the heart, the solar plexus, the pubic bone and then root it right down into the pelvic floor. Imagine your intention has roots and feel them sinking into the earth.
- Next see your sankalpa as a plant beginning to grow, you can let go of the word here and sense it more as an energy.
- Feel it as a tender shoot in the area just behind the pubic bone, feel it receiving the warmth of the sun in your solar plexus area and then see it as a beautiful flower blossoming in your heart. And then radiate that beauty up through your throat and into the crown.
You can practice this meditation for 40 days. In my own experience it’s a profound and healing way to start every year and my intentions always seem to come to fruition.
Want to be lead through the practice by me? Watch my video.
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